Monday, February 14, 2011

Talking with the Client

Well, it's bound to happen.  We all have to do it.  It makes some of us feel defensive, others feel superior, and still others feel like hanging their heads in a toilet.

Yes, I'm talking about parent-teacher communication.

I've blogged about this in the past, from both perspectives.  But today, I want to focus on early childhood educators talking to parents, or, more specifically, child care and preschool teachers talking to parents.  And not in a formal fashion.  We're not talking parent-teacher conference here.  We're talking your everyday, necessary, but often awkward conversations.

There are lots of reasons teachers feel awkward talking to parents.  From my own experience, I felt awkward talking to parents because I was by nature a shy person.  In addition, I was very young when I started in this field and most parents were older than me.  I was positive everyone knew more than I did (and sometimes i was quite right!).  In fact, I was so afraid of parents, there were many times I failed to even acknowledge their presence when they dropped their children off or picked them up.  This, my friends, is a mortal sin in the early childhood world.

One of the things that we often forget in childcare is that, whether we like it or not, in many situations the parents are paying our paychecks.  They are our clients and customers.  And just as you would expect an encounter with a friendly cashier at the supermarket, a greeting from someone at the front desk of a hotel, or a friendly "hello" when you enter a clothing store, parents expect the same from us.  A friendly hello goes a long way in developing a positive relationship with parents.

This isn't to say you'll be greeted the same.  Just as we've all had days where we grunt in response to a cashier, you may get a grunt in return.  But it doesn't lessen your responsibility to treat parents with respect.  If nothing else, remind yourself that you are modeling behavior for the children in your care.

Often I've talked about building relationships with people in this business.  The first step to any relationship is a warm and welcome "hello".  I remember when I had two young children in childcare.  I would pick them up after a full day of working with other people's children, as well as adult students, meetings, and the like.  I encountered a fair number of teachers who never raised their eyes to meet mine, never told my child goodbye, never acknowledged my presence of that my child was leaving.  Experiences such as this made me irritable and sometimes downright angry.  As a teacher myself, I felt that even if a teacher couldn't bring herself to acknowledge MY presence, she needed to acknowledge my child.  However, I also encountered multiple warm, friendly teachers who greeted me as I entered the room, sometimes sharing a funny anecdote about my child as I waited for him or her to clean up and gather his or her things.  A pleasant goodbye from a teacher sometimes literally turned my mindset around, reminding me of how lucky I was to share this journey called life with my children and giving me a little more energy to enjoy them.  So practice, teachers.  Practice putting on your happy faces and spreading your friendliness.  I promise, for somebody, it makes a difference.

Tomorrow, look forward to a post about sharing less than happy news with parents.  Tricky but doable, you too can deliver unhappy news successfully to even the most difficult parent.  Thanks for reading, pass it along, and click on the links...really...they pay me if you do.  :-)

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